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Access to Justice in Oregon (with an antipasto of Firefighters and Drug Courts)

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Two news articles that ran this week in the Oregonian shared a theme that I wish would carry through to another story I’ll tell in a separate blog post. Before getting to that, I’m talking about these two stories:

1) Multnomah County’s drug court faces budget ax, by Aimee Green, The Oregonian, Tuesday March 10, 2009

A county department that funds a world-recognized drug rehabilitation program is offering to sacrifice it to help balance Multnomah County’s budget.

Officials come from across the nation and around the globe to learn from the county’s Sanctions Treatment Opportunity Progress court program — the second-oldest of nearly 2,000 drug courts in the United States — yet county officials say their funding outlook next fiscal year is so dire they must cut somewhere….” (read full article)

2) Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue adapting aggressively to changes, by Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian, Thursday March 12, 2009

“… Emergency response planners know the region’s growth wave could swamp them. One agency, seeing that it will be hard-pressed to cover the fast-growing cities and suburbs of Washington County, is jumping to sustainable ground.

Tom Clemo, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue’s chief of staff, was touring the Oregon Department of Transportation’s operations center in downtown Portland last summer when the aha! moment happened. TVF&R handles 32,000 emergency calls a year. It is the state’s second-largest department, behind Portland, and covers 210 square miles….” (read full story)

These are fascinating stories for a number of reasons, though for the moment I ask you to leave aside the fact that in some countries, these jobs are handled by or with the public health care system. In the U.S. fire departments and courts do these things. It is logical in some respects, for us. The health care system is not doing these jobs, the jails cannot do them. Fire departments have managed emergency transport services and tendered immediate on-location first aid for decades (centuries?). Courts and D.A.s and all others connected with the revolving courthouse and jail doors for drug and alcohol addicts are tired of waiting for others to come up with solutions.

The TVF&R team and the Drug Court innovators both, have also masterfully navigated an extraordinarily complex organizational, public relations, and management journey involving many people, government and private entities, competing and complimentary interests, and seemingly have done so with good humor and energy and ideas remaining for the days ahead.

We could go on for a long time about the dynamics of these two successful initiatives, and I haven’t even mentioned the amount of money and lives saved, but will instead make the beginning of a case for doing the same thing in the Equal Access to Justice community, in which public law libraries play a pivotal yet virtually invisible role.

Several months ago I proposed to a group of public law librarians and counsel to the Interim Judiciary Committee that the Oregon Legislature appoint an Oregon public law library task force, with the following goals. It was a rough draft and mean primarily as a starting point for further discussion:

1) Oregon public law libraries will become active partners with statewide legal service providers to explore and develop types of cooperative agreements that will lead to reduced costs and an increase in legal assistance to all Oregonians.

2) Task force members will identify any other statewide access to justice initiatives that could be developed by encouraging representatives from the following entities to work together to improve the delivery of legal services, through sharing resources (physical and digital, i.e. books and databases) and other cooperative agreements.

3) Task force members will identify specific actions through which cost savings can be achieved, through the formation of a database licensing consortium among the county law libraries or any other method of streamlining the purchase and delivery of online legal research database service to members of the Oregon State Bar, to pro se litigants, and to all county law libraries.

The partners I have in mind include these:

1) Oregon State Bar (OSB) (including the Lawyer’s Campaign for Equal Justice)
2) OSB Debtor-Creditor, Consumer Law, and Sole and Small Law Firm Practitioner Sections
3) Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO)
4) Oregon State Law Library
5) Oregon Judicial Department
6) Oregon Council of County Law Libraries (OCCLL) (2 county law library representatives, at least one of whom will be from a small/rural county law library)
7) Law School Libraries
8) Association of Oregon Counties (AOC
9) State Law Library (many people take their legal problems to their public libraries)
10) At least one member of the non-attorney public, perhaps someone who has been a pro se litigant

I’ll write more about this in coming days.

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